Environmental Must-Reads – May 23, 2014


Write-down of two-thirds of US shale oil explodes fracking myth

Next month, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) will publish a new estimate of US shale deposits set to deal a death-blow to industry hype about a new golden era of US energy independence by fracking unconventional oil and gas.

EIA officials told the Los Angeles Times that previous estimates of recoverable oil in the Monterey shale reserves in California of about 15.4 billion barrels were vastly overstated. The revised estimate, they said, will slash this amount by 96% to a puny 600 million barrels of oil.

Mixed reactions after U.S. drastically cuts Monterey Shale outlook

Kim Owens, daughter of an oil rig supervisor who once worked on a fracking crew, now pours drinks for oil workers every day as a bartender at the Foxy Lady in this tiny town 18 miles northwest of Bakersfield.

To Owens and many others in Kern County, petroleum is the economic lifeline that provides jobs, fills the hotels and keeps the restaurants open.

That’s why she was bristling Wednesday at new federal findings that dramatically slashed the estimated amount of oil able to be pulled out of the Monterey Shale, a vast stretch of Central and Southern California that is estimated to contain two-thirds of the nation’s deep-rock oil deposits.

Fracking in California’s Monterey Shale will recover 96 percent less oil than thought

The promise of fracking in California’s large Monterey Shale deposits was intoxicating: 13.7 billion barrels of oil, as estimated by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, were recoverable with existing technology, enough to bring 2.8 million new jobs to the state and boost tax revenue by $24.6 billion per year.

But the independent firm hired to evaluate the shale back in 2011 made the very incorrect assumption that the Monterey deposits would be as easy to tap as those in North Dakota and Texas — and that turns out not to be the case. A new, revised estimate slashes that promise by 96 percent, putting the amount of recoverable oil at only 600 million barrels.

North Carolina Senate outlaws disclosure of fracking fluid secrets

The North Carolina Senate on Thursday voted to make it a crime to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, even as big U.S. oil companies elsewhere consider releasing more information about the fluids to address public concerns about the environment.

The legislation, proposed by three Republican state senators and passed by a vote of 35-12, aims to protect trade secrets about fluids used to extract oil or gas from wells using fracking, which blasts sand, water and chemicals deep beneath the earth’s surface.

Fracking: NC lawmakers vow to avoid Pa.’s costly mistakes

Critics say Pennsylvania rushed into the gas drilling business six years ago, overhauling its rules only after problems with gas wells and other regulatory oversights were discovered.

Some of the same complaints are echoed in North Carolina, which is expected to allow gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing by next summer. Those complaints include the fiercely debated risks to groundwater, the speed with which lawmakers are moving to adopt regulations, and the influence of the gas industry on state policy.

Obama faces fracking protesters in NY

Protesters opposed to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, greeted President Obama’s motorcade when he arrived Thursday at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.

The crowd of protesters chanted “end fracking now,” while waving anti-fracking signs, according to a White House press pool report.

EPA: Outside groups shelled out $4.5M for agency officials’ travel

In June 2012, Chesapeake Energy Corp. led more than a dozen U.S. EPA officials on a tour of its hydraulic fracturing operations near Sayre, Pa.

Fracking, and how the federal government regulates it, is of great concern to Chesapeake. The energy company spent $1.8 million on lobbying that year — including lobbying EPA on its hydraulic fracturing study looking into potential impacts on drinking water, according to disclosure records on file with the Senate.

Fracking blamed for ruining water wells, led to $4.1M settlement

Ray Kemble, a mechanic and former gas field worker, is campaigning to stop fracking operations that he and his neighbors blame for ruining their water wells.

Kemble, 58, lives within a 9-square-mile area where Pennsylvania regulators have banned new gas wells after several high-profile cases of contamination led to a $4.1 million settlement against a gas company.

Shell hits back at ‘carbon bubble’ claims

Shell has hit back at claims that its multi-billion dollar investments in tar sands, fracking and other unconventional oil and gas exploration will create a “carbon bubble” which may backfire catastrophically because of expected global climate change legislation.

Previous research by economists, campaigners, and MPs has suggested that the majority of coal, oil and gas reserves of publicly listed companies, including Shell, are “unburnable” if the world is to have a chance of not exceeding global warming of 2C, the level governments have agreed to limit rises to. That is leading to a so-called carbon bubble, an overvaluation of oil companies’ financial value, they have said.

Wisconsin court clears controversial ‘frac sand’ mining permit

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals has upheld a decision by Buffalo County officials to grant a permit that would allow more than 100 truckloads a day of fracking sand to be trucked on local roads.

The three-judge panel rejected a local resident’s challenge to the Buffalo County Board of Adjustment’s approval of a conditional use permit for the frac sand mining operation.

Three Years After Oil Spill, Lawmakers Learn About $5 Million BP Gave To Governor’s Office

Typically, money slated for the state budget is handled by the Legislature.

But yesterday the Texas House Appropriations and Natural Resources Committee found out about $5 million paid to the state of Texas by British Petroleum following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

BP to Appeal Oil Spill Claims Settlement to Supreme Court

BP Plc, seeking to avoid paying what it says would be billions of dollars in unjustified claims, will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review a court order on a settlement tied to its 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

“No company would agree to pay for losses that it did not cause, and BP certainly did not when it entered into this settlement,” the company said in a statement announcing its intention to appeal an order forcing it to pay what it calls fictitious claims of spill-related damage.

Agencies act quickly to control oil spill in Southeast Utah

On Wednesday morning, the Bureau of Land Management Moab Field Office was notified by SW Energy and the Utah Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining of a leaking oil well in the Salt Wash field south of Interstate 70, approximately 12 miles southeast of the town of Green River.

In response, the BLM dispatched technical staff to investigate and assist with containment of the leaking fluids.

DEQ serves violation notice to CSX for Lynchburg oil spill

CSX has been served with a notice of violation by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality related to the April 30 train derailment in Lynchburg.

The DEQ letter sent to CSX Transportation Inc. cites regulations prohibiting the discharge of oil into state waters, lands or storm drain systems.

Jindal gets pipeline bill designed to protect consumers

A bill that could protect the Midla pipeline from being abandoned heads to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk after easily passing the Senate.

Senate Bill 525 by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, would turn interstate pipelines in Louisiana into intrastate pipelines should the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allow a pipeline to be abandoned.

Towing industry requests study of pipeline hazards across the evolving coastline

Inland towboat operators are asking state regulators to thoroughly map subsurface oil and gas pipelines fearing an ever-eroding coastline has changed the landscape of underwater hazards.

House resolution 143 passed unanimously through the Senate’s Natural Resources Committee Thursday. The measure requests the Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources perform a “comprehensive assessment” of all pipelines transporting hazardous liquids or natural gas in the state’s coastal zone identifying those inadequately covered and no longer buried as originally intended.

New Film Destroys TransCanada’s Sunny Keystone PR Campaign

TransCanada’s PR team offers dozens of videos featuring happy “straight talk” — in both English and French — about its Keystone XL pipeline.

In them you’ll meet the smiling TransCanada environmental specialist who says she grew up in Nebraska, and has nothing but “great respect for the people who live here.” They’ll introduce you to a multicultural group of hardworking men in hardhats who will tell you about how much pride they take in building the pipeline. And then there’s the weatherbeaten farmer who grins slyly as he recalls the hard bargain he drove before agreeing to sell the company a right-of-way across his land.

First Nations prepare for fight against Energy East pipeline

First Nations activists are turning their attention to TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Energy East project, vowing to mount the same kind of public opposition that threatens the Keystone XL pipeline in the United States and Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway in British Columbia.

Some 70 First Nations leaders met in Winnipeg recently to plan a strategy they hope will block TransCanada’s ambitious plan to ship more than 1 million barrels a day of crude from Western Canada to refiners and export terminals in the East, despite widespread political support for the $12-billion project.

Secrecy of Oil-by-Train Shipments Causes Concern Across the U.S.

Emergency responders in Cincinnati know that trains full of crude oil have been rumbling through their city; they can see mile-long chains of black tank cars clacking across bridges over the Ohio River.

But they don’t know enough to feel prepared for the kinds of fiery accidents that have occurred over the last 10 months after oil-train derailments. How many of the 100 trains that pass through residential neighborhoods and warehouse districts daily are carrying oil, for example? And when crude is carried, is it the kind that federal investigators have linked to explosions?

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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